Jackpot, Snake Eyes: Manny Pacquiao Vs. Brandon Rios Preview And Prediction

(Brandon Rios, left, and Manny Pacquiao, right, visit Tiananmen Square)

So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2013, Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios on HBO pay-per-view on Nov. 23. Previously: a special edition of TQBR Radio; what's at stake; the undercard, previewed; the camp fight, broken down; notes from Macau, part I and IIkeys to the fight; staff roundtable. Next: the Ultimate Guide.

This weekend's blockbuster fight in the casino capital of China, Macau, is a very specific kind of gamble by the promoter, Top Rank, which is putting its money machine Manny Pacquiao into a bout with Brandon Rios that could spell the end of his career if it goes wrong. The bookies, and no doubt Top Rank, view the fight as a calculated risk that is more calculation than risk.

The calculation goes like this: Pacquiao, having struggled in two consecutive losses to crafty technicians — once legitimately, to Juan Manuel Marquez, and once farcically, to Timothy Bradley– looks his best against Hungry, Hungry Hippos-style brawlers. That's Rios. A win in an exciting fight where Pacquiao resembles his old self restores some of the luster to one of the two linchpins of Top Rank's bid to open up China and the Asian market as a whole, which has Bob Arum seeing dollar signs on the inside of his eyelids. (At the very least, much like the physical confrontation between members of team Pacquiao and team Rios this week, Arum sees the Chinese location for the fight as a potential hook for news coverage.)

The risk goes like this: Pacquiao might not have recovered from his knockout by Marquez, in which case Rios is the exact fighter to crush him for good and maybe even do permanent damage.

What I see is a fight that very well could go spectacularly awry for Pacquiao, but most likely will not.

Nobody has enjoyed fighting Rios yet. He's a hard man, enthusiastic about outbrawling fellow brawlers and capable of walking down and damaging less like-minded sorts. Miguel Acosta, Anthony Peterson — these are more boxing-oriented rather than brawl-oriented fighters, and Rios sucked Peterson into his kind of fight and eventually caught up to Acosta. Mike Alvarado outboxed Rios in their second fight, but paid a price from Rios along the way. Only Richard Abril avoided much damage from Rios by holding on for dear life.

Rios probably wins if Pacquiao isn't recovered. He has the right style for making a shaky Pacquiao submit somewhere over the course of 12 long rounds — unceasing pressure, constant attack, volume of punches where some of them have to get through. As we've discussed this week, nobody knows if Pacquiao has recovered; he has passed all the medical tests, but there's more to a prizefighter's standing than meeting a baseline level of health, and the history of boxing offers myriad outcomes for elite fighters who are knocked out as frighteningly as Pacquiao was by Marquez.

If Pacquiao is recovered, then he should be the first to enjoy stepping into the ring with Rios. Rios might be skilled offensively, but he's hopeless on defense. A Pacquiao with his full level of speed and power or even close should carve poor Bam Bam up like if your dad takes a bunch of meth and goes to town on the Thanksgiving turkey next week. Rios struggled to find a surprisingly mobile Alvarado in their rematch, and in the nimbleness category, Alvarado doesn't have a thing on the bouncy Pacquiao. Making matters worse for Rios, he's moving up in weight to 147, where Pacquiao has beat the stuffing out of full blown welterweights. Rios isn't easy to hurt or drop, but then, he hasn't faced anyone with so much hurting or so much dropping power in his life. It's fair to say Rios hasn't faced any fighter a fraction as good as a Pacquiao who's even a reasonable fascimile of his old self.

It all comes down, then, to how much confidence one has in what is left of the pre-Marquez Pacquiao. It's a simple fight to break down in that way.

Myself, I don't have a lot. But if you're going to write something with the word "prediction" in the title, you've obligated yourself to make a call. So here it is: Pacquiao is recovered enough to slice and dice the likes of Rios for a victory, at least, and he'll do so in the middle rounds of the fight while taking a little punishment along the way but surviving it.

Pacquiao by knockout, be it techical from cuts or a classic one-punch slobberknocker.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.